Both BioMom and I had been to Ireland in past lives, but neither of us had been to Northern Ireland.
About ten years ago, just before I was really ready to be on the job market, I went to the University of Ireland-Galway to interview for an instructorship position. Ultimately I both didn't get it and I chickened out. I had heard that if you accept a position overseas it is really difficult to get back to the states, so to speak. At the time, I was just not ready to make such a permanent decision.
All of this is to say that we had never been to any major city in the North (Belfast or Derry, for example) or any major tourist attraction, so we welcomed the trip to Giant's Causeway.
According to Wikipedia: The Giant's Causeway (Irish: Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFómharach) is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located in County Antrim, on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about two miles (3 km) north of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987 by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant's Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (36 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places.
These facts are not nearly as interesting as the legends created around the causeway: Legend has it that the Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Fionn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Fionn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. In a variation, Fionn fled after seeing Benandonner's great bulk, and asked his wife to disguise him as the baby. In both versions, when Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the alleged father, Fionn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed by Fionn.
Another variation is that Oonagh painted a rock shaped like a steak and gave it to Benandonner, whilst giving the baby (Fionn) a normal steak. When Benandonner saw that the baby was able to eat it so easily, he ran away, tearing up the causeway.
Another version of the legend was that Fionn had spent many days and nights trying to create a bridge to Scotland because he was challenged by another giant. A fellow boatsman told him that the opponent was much larger than he. Fionn told his wife and she came up with an ingenious plan to dress Fionn like a baby. They spent many nights creating a costume and bed. When the opponent came to Fionn's house; Fionn's wife told him that Fionn was out woodcutting and the opponent would have to wait for him to return. Then Fionn's wife showed him her baby and when the opponent saw him he was terrified at the thought of how huge Fionn would be. He ran back to Scotland and threw random stones from the causeway into the waters bellow.
The "causeway" legend corresponds with geological history in as much as there are similar basalt formations (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at the site of Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa in Scotland.
Here are a few pictures of us exploring the amazing rocks. This tourist attraction was the first of many that BioMom and I noted the degree to which the Irish Government does not restrict access in order to (attempt) to keep tourists safe. You could literally walk out to the edge of the sea which could come up over the rocks forcefully and unexpectantly, perhaps surprising an unsuspecting tourist who could then slip into the icy waters. There were signs of warning, but no restrictions whatsoever.
After the causeway, we had a quick lunch (fish and chips, Guinness and a bit of the World Cup) at The Nook, and then it was on to the Carrick-a-rede-rope bridge (which was thankfully closed) and then to the Dunluce Castle.
The rope bridge is a rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island. It spans twenty metres and is thirty metres above the rocks below.
Dunluce Castle was one of the most intact and ancient castles I've ever seen. Although it was closed by the time we got there, Ten and I went below the castle and explored the watery dungeons.
The new father-in-law took us on a driving tour of Omagh's surrounding forests and vistas. This included one called "magnetic hill" in which an optical illusion made it look like a car in neutral was going up a hill. Strange.
The day after the wedding we all woke up quite late (11) but it felt like 8 so we were all quite discombobulated. The light there is strange, like Alaska I suppose, not quite getting dark, and never quite seeing full sun. The reception was on the bottom of Loch Erne and a "quick drive" around the Loch led to Belleek (a little china maker who produces the little shamrock pottery which all members of my family collect*) and Ballyshannon.
My grandpa is from Ballyshannon Ireland.
I never met him, and have heard only a few stories about him, most of them from Cousin's mom. He died when she was 11.
After Bellek, we headed over to Ballyshannon to check out grandpa's digs. A few years ago, my brother visited Ballyshannon and went to the Courthouse to see if he could find any information about our grandpa. Apparently the name John Francis Burke is like John Smith here, so there were a kagillion of them.
We went on to get a glimpse of the rugged West Coast at Donegal and spent the afternoon snacking and wandering through the city.
"There are approximately 1,000 stone circles and 80 stone henges in Britain and Ireland. The French archaeologist Jean-Pierre Mohen in his book Le Monde des Megalithes says: "British Isles megalithism is outstanding in the abundance of standing stones, and the variety of circular architectural complexes of which they formed a part...strikingly original, they have no equivalent elsewhere in Europe — strongly supporting the argument that the builders were independent."
At about the third one that I demanded we go out of our way to see, Ten wondered why these were so interesting to me. It's hard to explain why the existence of intelligent life three or four thousand years ago is so fascinating to a ten year old.
*Cousin and Cousin's Mom: Yes! I got you both small toys!!
So our one major regret of the entire trip is not getting there a few days sooner.
Unbeknown to us, Irish weddings are preceded by days of late night parties including friends and family celebrating with music and drink, getting to know each other, and generally getting ready for the big event. Not only would this have been fun, but also Big would have gotten to know some people and been more comfortable in his role as Pageboy in the wedding.
As it turned out, he was jetlagged and slept until 11:15, not really ready for a 12:00 wedding.
Here is my brother and his two sons (the redhead was the groom) getting ready for the wedding.
Here is Big playing a little "football" before the wedding.
Once there, he refused to engage with the flower girl, but enjoyed climbing around the church wall.
He did agree to walk down the aisle (not with the flower girl), but refused to be in any formal pictures.
It was lovely. Here is my brother and the kids feeding the ducks in the river. We stayed in a little chalet that night so that no one drove after the reception. And an amateur photo of everyone at the wedding.
Be prepared for day three and my first attempt at creating my own map with Google Maps!
And... This is my 1001th post over the course of about five and a half years.
Anyway, I plan on telling you little by little about out trip with pictures and words over the next few days.
Let me say first and foremost, however, the kids did great. Absolutely fantastic. We had a few flareups, of course, but really no more than we would have had at home, and certainly no less than expected, given how much time the four of us spent together.
Also, let me say that we took nearly all of the advice offered to us in terms of helping the kids cross the Atlantic and while we used ALL of the tricks over the course of the two weeks while flying, eating out at pubs, and driving (a lot), the three indispensable items were as follows (in no particular order): 1. Suckers: three kinds. 2. Wrapped nonsense presents from Grandma (which may or may not have been broken and which often caused fights after-the-fact, but the anticipation for the wrapped presents helped so much). 3. Nintendo DS's (which I purchased at a major local retailer somewhat reluctantly, and spent WAY too much money on in terms of acquiring two and outfitting them. We weren't sure how they could possibly be worth it, but they allowed us to avoid hours of are-we-theres-yet while traversing the country).
So, here we go, the trip in words and pictures!
Here's our first flight: Minneapolis to Chicago. It turns out that that flight was one of Big's worst moments in the entire trip and we get one of the best quotes from BioMom of the entire two weeks. Toward the end of the flight Big started kicking and pestering the seat in front of him, severely annoying the passenger in the seat. BioMom couldn't get him to stop freaking out and they battled all the way to O'Hare. We step off the plane and start heading out of the domestic gates area toward an extremely long security line and a three hour wait for the long flight and BioMom looks over at me (I can still see the gate we just came from, mind you, if I look over my shoulders) and says "I'm emotionally and physically SPENT!" with a sort of implication that she'd be of no help in the impending future of dealing with Big.
I thought to myself: Holy shit, we've just taken ten steps into our climb of Mt. Everest and I've already lost half of my SHERPA's and my oxygen tanks!!
This is my family, plugged in and satisfied during our three hour layover. Big's watching an episode of Batman on my iPhone, Ten is listening to music and BioMom is crackberrying. Meeting up with my Brother. . . Here we are exhausted but alive and well in Dublin. About to embark on a left-hand-sided drive to Omagh* (the fiance's hometown in Northern Ireland)! Notice the sucker in Big's mouth and the eye-cover on Ten's forehead-a first gift from Grandma.